I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, July 27, 2012

Can the NEA Learn From the NRA?

Via Digby, here's an instructive story, no matter what you believe about gun control:
I asked a Democratic legislative staffer for a first-person description of the NRA's power on the Hill. Here's the response I got, on the condition that I not provide any further identifying information. It's pretty breathtaking.

We do absolutely anything they ask and we NEVER cross them—which includes asking permission to cosponsor any bills endorsed by the Humane Society (the answer is usually no) and complying with their demand to oppose the DISCLOSE Act, neither of which have anything to do with guns. They've completely shut down the debate over gun control. It's really incredible. I'm not sure when we decided that a Democrat in a marginal district who loses his A rating from the NRA automatically loses reelection. Because it's not like we do everything other partisan organizations like the Chamber [of Commerce] or NAM [National Association of Manufacturers] tell us to...

Pandering to the NRA is the probably worst part of my job. I can justify the rest of it—not just to keep the seat, but because I believe most of the positions he takes are consistent with what his constituents want. But sucking up to the NRA when something like Colorado happens is hard to stomach.
Again, I'm not bringing this up to debate gun control (regular readers probably can guess my position); I'm pointing out how much political power these people have. Yes, the NRA has deep pockets because it exists to protect the business interests of the gun industry. But it's quite remarkable how completely the group has captured debate on gun control, to the point that Mike Bloomberg is considered a political outlier for even bringing up the topic post-Aurora.

The NRA claims 4.3 million members, but I'm guessing the vast majority of those members are amateur shooters with no financial stake in guns laws; they just want their guns.

AFT has about 900K members, and the NEA has 3.2 million. There are around 3.3 million public school full-time teachers in the US. In terms of numbers, teachers and retired teachers rival the gun-owners who thought enough to join the NRA. And every one of those teachers has a financial stake in education policy.

So how is it possible that the NRA gets everything it wants, but teachers are losing workplace protections, pay, benefits, and professional status under a Democratic president? What are they doing that we're not?

Is it us? Do we just not care enough to make the sort of stink gun owners make over the slightest possible infringement perceived on their rights? Do we have to get kicked around even more to start waking up?

Is it the unions? Are they too tied to serving as contract negotiators and providing members services that they can't be as effective at legislative lobbying and public relations as the NRA, which doesn't need to worry about those things? Do we need a separate organization to handle this area?

Is it the money? Do we need to start ponying up more to buy elections? Sorry, but I don't think we'll ever match Wal-Mart in that area.

I really am struggling with the answer here: do we have to sell our souls to get the sort of power that the NRA has? What are we doing wrong?


Commuting Teacher said...

I believe part of your answer is our the participation rate of NJEA members. They just expect the union will 'take care' of things for them so they don't have to be engaged. They don't seem to realize they ARE NJEA. As for the rest of it, I'm also at a loss.

Dave said...

One problem that I've shared before is some fundamental differences in structure and philosophy between AFT and NEA. Politicians can pick which union is closer to their view, then claim "union support". The NRA is a monopoly as far as I know.